If you ancestor was alive and enumerated in the 1900 U.S. census, lucky you!  With this census and those that followed, 1910, 1920, 1930, you have a clue as to the date of his arrival in the U.S. and whether he had become naturalized.  These are huge clues.  So, before you head to an online source to look for passenger lists, stop by the census first and get an idea of the year he immigrated.

If you find his naturalization papers have been placed online, you’ll be even more fortunate.  These papers have recorded his port of entry and date of arrival.

Armed with at least a date, and maybe a port, you may start searching passenger lists for his arrival.  Ancestry.com has the largest collection of online passenger lists.  You may start with a global search of all immigration records, and then narrow your search as needed.  If you don’t find him the first time, try alternate spellings.  My Wenzel Mueller was indexed as Wenzel Muller.

FamilySearch.org has for free searching “United States, Index to Passenger Arrivals, Atlantic and Gulf Coast Ports, 1820-1874.”   This collection does not include New York City.  At the time of this writing the collection has over one million images but they are browse only and take some time to load each page.   However, it is indexed so you may jump to the surname plus two letters, for example, “Fan-Fee.”

Passenger lists are a great resource for determining an immigrant’s place of entrance to the U.S. his age, sex, country of birth, occupation, last legal residence, country claiming allegiance, other passengers sailing with him, the name of the ship, place of departure, date of arrival.  There could be family members traveling with him, and that would be a great help in assuring you have the right person.

What if you can’t find your ancestor immigrating to the port where he lived for many years?  I may have an answer for you.

It would be fair assessment to believe that if your ancestor lived in or near a particular port all his life, he probably immigrated to that port.  If you haven’t found him coming into that port, however, you should search other ones.

Sometimes, a person booked the first passage they could get on, despite it going to a different port than they wanted.  They just wanted to get to the states and would then deal with how to get to their destination.  In the case of Thomas Francis Farrell, he sailed from Liverpool, England, to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, then made his way up to Boston where he lived many years.  His very pregnant wife sailed about five months later straight to Boston.  So, if you fail to find your immigrant ancestor arriving at the port where you expect him to arrive, check other ports for him.

Major ports of immigration in the 1800s in the U.S. included:

  • Boston, Massachusetts,
  • New York, New York
  • Baltimore, Maryland
  • Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
  • New Orleans, Louisiana

Smaller ports included:

  • Mobile, Alabama
  • Middletown, Connecticut
  • Savannah, Georgia
  • Bath, Maine
  • Fall River, Massachusetts
  • Gloucester, Massachusetts
  • New Bedford, Massachusetts
  • Provincetown, Massachusetts
  • Perth Amboy, New Jersey
  • Newport, Rhode Island
  • San Francisco, California

Where do you look if your global search failed?  Where did he end up?

With the opening of the Erie Canal in 1825, New York became a great funnel from the east to the mid-west as immigrants traveled on the Erie Canal, sailed or walked along lake Erie, to Ohio and Illinois, and lands along the Ohio and Missouri River.

New Orleans was a great hub as well, as people sailed up the Mississippi River to the lands opening for settlement in the mid-west.

Hopefully, one of these ideas will help you find your immigrant’s port of arrival! 

Related Posts:  Crossing the Pond: Finding Immigrant Origins.